Vatican City, Dec 1, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI oversaw changes to the U.S. episcopate on Dec. 1, including resignations in New Jersey and Missouri and two auxiliary bishops' appointments, all on the same day that the Archdiocese of Seattle celebrated its new archbishop's installation.
Having reached the age of 75, Bishop John M. Smith of Trenton, N.J. will pass on his position to the Bishop David M. O'Connell, who was appointed as a coadjutor.
Bishop O'Connell previously served as the President of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. During his time there, he strongly advocated the implementation of Pope John Paul II's guidelines for Catholic education in the Apostolic Constitution “Ex Corde Ecclesiae.”
Pope Benedict also accepted the resignation of St. Louis' Auxiliary Bishop Robert J. Hermann, who had submitted his resignation at age 75, according to Vatican protocol.
The outgoing auxiliary bishop expressed gratitude for the eight years he had been able to serve the St. Louis Archdiocese, saying he hoped to “re-invest in the priestly ministry of pastoral care for souls” during his retirement.
Monsignor Edward M. Rice, currently among the clergy of the St. Louis archdiocese, will succeed the outgoing Bishop Hermann. He currently serves as the archdiocese's director of vocations to the priesthood. The St. Louis native will be consecrated as a bishop on January 13, 2011.
Meanwhile, the new head of the Archdiocese of Seattle, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, is celebrating his installation Mass on Dec. 1 at St. James Cathedral. Archbishop Sartain, 58, previously served as the Bishop of Joliet in Illinois. He replaces Archbishop Alex. J. Brunett, who retired last year at age 75.
Astana, Kazakhstan, Dec 1, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Christians are the world’s most persecuted religious group, the Vatican’s top diplomat told a summit of international leaders meeting in Kazakhstan, Dec. 1.
On the first day of a two-day meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone urged member nations to fight anti-Christian discrimination in the same way that it fights discrimination against other religious groups.
The 56 member countries of the organization include the United States and Canada, as well as European nations, former Soviet bloc countries, and Turkey, among others. The meeting of heads of state is intended to address security questions. Topping the agenda were transnational threats such as terrorism and human trafficking, recent unrest in Kyrgyzstan and the ongoing tensions in Afghanistan.
Cardinal Bertone said that that worldwide more than 200 million Christians “live in difficult conditions” because of legal and cultural restrictions on worship and religious freedom. “It is well documented that Christians are the most discriminated and persecuted religious group,” he stated.
Sao Paulo, Brazil, Dec 1, 2010 (CNA) - Four dioceses in the Brazilian state of Sao Paolo have announced a joint effort to prevent the legalization of abortion.
The dioceses of Taubate, Lorena, Caraguatatuba and Guarulhos are pushing for changes to the state constitution that would protect life from conception to natural death.
The move would prevent the legalization of abortion in the state.
Hermes Nery, the coordinator of the pro-life commission for the Diocese of Taubate, explained that the initiative was launched Nov. 27 at Taubate's diocesan cathedral. Supporters aim to collect 300,000 signatures to put forth a proposal for changes to the Sao Paolo state constitution.
“The federal constitution already states that life cannot be violated, but it does not spell out at what point. We want the state constitution to explicitly declare that human life begins at conception and ends with natural death,” Nery said.
Bishop Carmo Joao Rhoden of Taubate spoke to Vatican Radio, saying, “I think this initiative is important, considering that all the polls show that the Brazilian people are pro-life and therefore against abortion. They are for the protection of human life from the moment of conception,” he added.
Bishop Luiz Gonzaga Bergonzini of Guarulhos told the publication “Status on the Defense of Life” that the effort “is the first step” toward preventing the legalization of abortion in the federal Constitution.
“Life is the greatest value we have and it should be defended from the moment of conception,” he said.
Bishop Gonzaga has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Workers’ Party in Brazil, to which outgoing President Lula da Silva and President-elect Dilma Rousseff belong.
Dilma Rousseff has voiced her support of legalized abortion on various occasions. Her position cost her some seven million votes in the first round of Brazil’s 2010 presidential elections. As part of her strategy for the run-offs, she said she was “personally opposed to abortion” and promised that if she is elected president she would not sent proposals to legalize the procedure to Congress.
Rome, Italy, Dec 1, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The new rector of Rome’s La Sapienza University has issued an invitation to Pope Benedict XVI to visit the school.
The Pope had planned to visit the university in January 2008, however student protests prompted the Vatican to cancel his plans to speak there.
Luigi Frati, La Sapienza's new rector, confirmed that this time, the Pope would be “welcomed with open arms.”
“During the tenure of my predecessor, an outrageous error was committed. Not giving the Bishop of Rome the chance to speak at La Sapienza was an unforgivable act of folly,” he told the Italian newspaper Il Foglio.
Pope Benedict was scheduled to speak at the university on Jan. 17, 2008, but 67 professors signed a letter protesting the school’s plan to open the academic year with a visit by the Pontiff. After student protests threatened to disrupt the event, the Vatican decided to cancel the visit.
“I am convinced that many of the 67 professors who signed the letter two years ago protesting the ‘inappropriate’ visit of the Pontiff—bemoaning the comments Ratzinger made in his speech at Regensburg and using questionable arguments about Galileo—never even read his original speeches at Regensburg and on Galileo,” Frati said.
“A professor from the largest university in Europe who speaks out based on hearsay is not the best image for us,” he added.
In its Feb. 5, 2008 edition, L’Osservatore Romano published an article explaining that the 67 professors who signed the letter of protest against the Pope’s visit based their accusations on a citation from Wikipedia taken out of context. “The online encyclopedia is compiled by internet users, and no scientist would use it as the exclusive source of his research, unless he could vouch for its accuracy,” the Vatican paper wrote.
Frati told Il Foglio, “Pope Ratzinger can come to La Sapienza whenever he wants to hold a conference, perhaps on the relationship between science and faith. We have invited him and if he is able to come, he will be welcomed with open arms.”
Massive support for Pope Benedict XVI
Following the cancellation of the 2008 visit, some 200 students attended the Pope's General Audience on Jan. 17 of that year to voice their support for the Pontiff. The students held signs that read: “If Benedict cannot come to La Sapienza, La Sapienza will come to Benedict.”
That same week, after then-Vicar of Rome Cardinal Camillo Ruini called for solidarity with Benedict XVI, more than 100,000 showed up at St. Peter’s Square for the Sunday Angelus on Jan. 20.
On that occasion, Pope Benedict XVI offered greetings “above all to the university students, professors and all those who have come ... in such large numbers to St. Peter’s Square for the recitation of the Angelus and to express their solidarity with me.”
Vatican City, Dec 1, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Continuing his recent trend of highlighting women saints during his Wednesday audience, Pope Benedict XVI focused on the renowned English mystic Julian of Norwich.
During his Dec. 1 address, the Pope underscored the immense faith of St. Julian, saying that her life – although difficult – showed how “God's promises are always greater than our expectations.”
Pope Benedict opened his remarks explaining that the 14th century saint lived at a time when the Church was “lacerated” by painful schisms after the Pope at the time, who temporarily fled to France, finally returned to Rome. St. Julian and her surrounding English countrymen were also deeply affected by a long standing war with France and were “suffering the consequences” of bloody conflict, he said.
“Inspired by divine love, Julian made a radical choice,” Pope Benedict stated. “Like an ancient anchoress, she chose to live in a cell located near the church of St. Julian in the city of Norwich.”
He explained that “anchoresses,” or recluses, dedicated themselves to prayer, meditation and study within their cells.
“In this way they came to acquire a very delicate human and religious sensibility which led to their being venerated by the people,” the Pope explained, adding that “and men and women of all ages and conditions, in need of counsel and comfort, devotedly sought them out.”
Those who choose to live apart from the world and devote their lives to prayer, the Pope observed, are “friends of God.”
“Women and men who chose to withdraw and live in the company of God acquire, precisely because of this choice, a great sense of compassion for the suffering and weakness of others,” he said."Thus I think with admiration and gratitude" that today's monasteries of cloistered men and women "are oases of peace and hope, a precious treasure for the entire Church."
Recalling St. Julian's book, titled "Revelations of Divine Love,” Pope Benedict said the work contains “an optimistic message based on the certainty that we are loved by God and protected by His Providence.”
She “compares divine love with maternal love,” he added. “This is one of the most characteristic messages of her mystical theology. The tenderness, solicitude and sweetness of God's goodness towards us are so great that to us, pilgrims on the earth, they seem as the love of a mother for her children.”
St. Julian understood the central message of the spiritual life, he said, which is the fundamental truth that God is love.
“Only when we open ourselves totally to this love, only when we allow it to become the one guide to our existence, does everything become transfigured and do we find true peace and joy which we can pass on to others.”
The Pope also posed a difficult question: If God is good, “why does evil exist, why do the innocent suffer?”
He replied, “Yet in the mysterious designs of Providence, even from evil God can draw a greater good.”
He also noted that St. Julian once wrote: “I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith, and that at the same time I should ... earnestly believe that all manner of thing shall be well.”
“God's promises are always greater that our expectations,” the Pope underscored. “If we commend the purest and deepest desires of our heart to God and to His immense love, we will never be disappointed, and 'all manner of thing shall be well.'”
“This is the final message, which Julian of Norwich transmits to us and which I too propose to you today,” he said, finishing his address.
Vatican City, Dec 1, 2010 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI has accepted an invitation to visit the country of Monaco in 2012. The visit would be the first by a Pontiff in nearly 500 years.
The Italian newspaper La Stampa reported Nov. 25 that the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Monaco, Msgr. Rene Giuliano, said, “We have invited (the Holy Father) many times and now we have received a positive response.”
The last visit made by a Pope to the small Mediterranean country took place in 1532 during the Pontificate of Clement VII.
In October 2009, Pope Benedict XVI held a private audience at the Vatican with Monaco’s Prince Albert.
New York City, N.Y., Dec 1, 2010 (CNA) - The Catholic League recently sent nativity scenes of the Holy Family to the 50 governors of the United States. So far, the group says, the responses received have been “overwhelmingly” positive.
The Catholic League explains that there is no constitutional prohibition barring privately-funded scenes from being displayed alongside secular symbols on capitol grounds.
CNA spoke about the nativity scenes with Catholic League communications director Jeff Field. He explained that the group “just wanted to make it clear that it’s okay for the government to display religious symbols at Christmastime. As long as they are not paying for it, there is no problem with displaying a religious scene.
“It’s perfectly reasonable and perfectly appropriate for the government to recognize the holiday.”
He reported that the Catholic League received an “overwhelmingly positive” response from about a dozen governors.
Idaho Gov. C.L. Otter plans to display his nativity scene in his capitol’s ceremonial office, while Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell will display his state’s set in the executive mansion.
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen also sent “a kind letter” in response.
Field told CNA that Washington state has said that they will not display the nativity set because of a rule disallowing any displays. Several years ago the state suffered a “circus” of controversy involving a variety of displays at the capitol.
However, Washington is the only state known to have declined the display of the set and the Catholic League is seeking permission for an alternative arrangement there.
Other pre-Christmas actions of the Catholic League include a billboard on the New York side of the Lincoln Tunnel which shows a nativity scene. The large sign, captioned “You Know It’s Real: This Season Celebrate Jesus,” wishes motorists a Merry Christmas.
The display counters a billboard the group American Atheists purchased on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel. Erected over the weekend, that billboard reads “You Know It’s a Myth: This Season Celebrate Reason.”
Catholic League President Bill Donohue said his organization decided to “counterpunch” after a donor sought to challenge the atheist group’s “anti-Christmas statement.”
“Our approach is positive, and services the common good. Theirs is negative, and is designed to sow division. It's what they do,” he commented.
“So after Christian motorists have had their sensibilities assaulted as they exit New Jersey, they will experience a sense of joy, and satisfaction, as they enter New York City. It's what we do.”
Washington D.C., Dec 1, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Southern Poverty Law Center’s classification of pro-family groups as hate groups is the “next phase” of a gay rights movement which seeks to redefine Christianity as bigotry and to shut down honest debate, pro-family leaders warned.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a well-funded civil rights organization which began in 1971 in opposition to racism and white supremacist groups.
Last week the center published an article classifying the Family Research Council and several other organizations as a “hate groups.” The SPLC also criticized the National Organization for Marriage, claiming both groups are “anti-gay.” The center claimed its listed groups have spread “known falsehoods” about “LGBT people” and have engaged in “repeated, groundless name-calling.”
The group listed 18 total organizations, including Concerned Women for America, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, and MassResistance. The law center stated that viewing homosexuality as unbiblical “does not qualify organizations for listing as hate group.”
In response, FRC president Tony Perkins charged that the SPLC was engaging in “a deliberately timed smear campaign” against FRC’s nearly 30 years of action “with civility and passion.”
“We hold to the indisputable fact that the family- a Dad, a Mom, and children - is the best building block of a good society, which is why we oppose efforts to transform it based on personal sexual preference,” he said in a Nov. 24 statement.
He called on the law center to apologize for its “slanderous attack and attempted character assassination.”
Maggie Gallagher, chairman of the board for the National Organization for Marriage, spoke about the SPLC article and list in a Nov. 29 interview with CNA. She called it an “absurd distraction” and a “very sad” move for “a once-great civil rights organization.”
“What we’re seeing now is the next phase of the gay rights movement,” she warned. She noted homosexual rights activist Dan Savage’s claim in the Washington Post that the country should get to a point where same-sex marriage isn’t debatable.
“This is part of the unfolding process of attempting to redefine Christian teaching on sex and marriage as the moral, legal and cultural equivalent of racism.”
“I do believe this is the goal of the architects of the gay marriage movement,” Gallagher stated. “And they’re making it very clear.
In a Nov. 29 e-mail to CNA, Princeton University law professor and National Organization for Marriage chairman emeritus Robert P. George compared the action to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s smearing of opponents by accusing them of being communist sympathizers.
While the Law Center continues to do some good work in the area of civil rights, its “tarring” of those it opposes “reveals itself to have become an ideologically partisan organization bent on shutting down dissent by intimidating into silence those with whom it should be engaged in honest debate.”
Gallagher noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center did not name her organization as a hate group “but even the Washington Post got confused” by its article.
Responding to the Law Center's accusations that some groups listed had spread falsehoods, she said she did not see anything that “would remotely cause us to be included in this report.”
In general comments about the SPLC’s attack on other groups, she described precedents in Europe where professions of belief in religious freedom accompany government suppression of believers in traditional marriage.
In Britain, according to Gallagher, Christian schools have the right to teach religious doctrine but the state claims the right to decide whether or not what is taught is a fact.
“The line they’re drawing is that you can say that gay marriage is unbiblical, but you can’t say ‘It’s better for children to have a mom and a dad’,” Gallagher explained.
The attempt to “shut down the scientific debate” on statements of fact controls what ordinary people can say and think and helps “morally shame” people who think marriage is a union of a man and a wife.
Gallagher saw the Law Center’s action as a vindication of her past statements.
“I wish they would stop proving that we’re right so consistently. I’m not surprised. This is what I predicted would happen. I’m a little surprised it’s happening so fast.
“They believe you should be treated like a racist if you think marriage is a union of a man and a wife,” she said.
Asked to explain the difference between having racist views and having views opposed to homosexual acts, Prof. George said that debates about sexual ethics are about whether certain acts are “consistent with the dignity of human beings.”
However, this debate assumes “the equal and inestimable worth and dignity of all human beings” because it asks whether certain acts are worthy of them. Racist ideology rejects this, basing itself on “skin pigmentation” or other “morally irrelevant factors.”
“We need to face squarely the goals of this movement, the rhetoric of this movement, and the fact that this is an issue,” Gallagher remarked.
She added that Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic bishops have made clear that “it doesn’t get better” if opponents of same-sex “marriage” stand down.
“The next fight is going to be whether or not our religious institutions and parents and schools are going to be stigmatized in the public square as racists, and face legal disabilities that racists face.”
George similarly warned that adherents of traditional Christian and Jewish beliefs have seen their rights “trampled” where same-sex unions have been recognized and where anti-discrimination laws have been used as “weapons against dissenters.”
“Here in the United States, we don't put people in jail for advocating bigotry, but we impose civil disabilities of various sorts,” he commented.
He predicted that if support for traditional marriage is treated as a form of bigotry, dissenting persons and institutions like the Catholic Church will “quickly find such disabilities imposed upon them.”
“It has already happened in Massachusetts, where Catholic Charities has been driven out of the field of providing adoption services,” he said.
Jerusalem, Israel, Dec 1, 2010 (CNA) - The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, has asked Christians in the Holy Land to join in prayer and fasting for the relief of a seven-year drought.
Israeli Jews and some Muslims have also been praying for an end to the drought, according to local reports.
Among the Jews and Christians, the seven dry years up to now may recall Biblical events such as the seven years of famine recorded in the book of Genesis, or the three years and six months of severe drought during the ministry of the prophet Elijah.
Patriarch Twal evoked that Old Testament prophet in his message to the priests and lay faithful of Jerusalem, noting that “St. Elijah prayed (for rain) and was answered.”
Without specifying any contemporary cause, the patriarch observed that the years of drought “indicate God's anger upon our land, the Holy Land.”
Although Israeli Jews and Christians might disagree on any prophetic interpretations of the drought's cause, both groups have been praying fervently for its end. The Jerusalem Post reported on Nov. 28 that the following Monday would bring “yet another day” for Jews to fast and pray for rain at the holy city's Western Wall.
Two leading Israel rabbis wrote, on that occasion, that the land was “dry due to our many sins,” although they similarly omitted any mention of specific causes.
Because Christian tradition forbids fasting on Sundays, Patriarch Twal has set aside two days to implore “the gift of rain.” On the second Sunday of the Advent season, Dec. 5, he has encouraged the faithful to focus on prayer for rain.
On the subsequent Friday –the most traditional day of fasting for Christians– he has asked the faithful to fast by means of a simplified or restricted diet, or to perform “any other … act of penance,” as a tangible means of imploring God “with prayers and pleas.”